The Seven Countries Where You Can Be Put To Death for Being an Atheist

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 11 2012 12:00 PM

The Seven Countries Where You Can Be Put To Death for Being an Atheist

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People gather for the Reason Rally on the National Mall March 24, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.

A new report from the International Humanist and Ethical Union names the seven countries in which atheists can be executed for their beliefs: Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.

The sobering report was presented to the U.N. on Monday. It takes a broad look at the state of freedom of expression worldwide for nonbelievers. As Reuters notes, Islamic countries overwhelmingly account for some of the most brutal anti-"unbeliever" criminalization and discrimination documented in the report. The big offenders tend to be laws pertaining to apostasy, blasphemy, compulsory religious registration, religious tests for citizenship or participation in civic life, and religious control of family law and public education. For example, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait, and Jordan all ban or strictly limit the publication of atheist views.

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Picking up on its prevalence in the news cycle this year (remember Innocence of Muslims?), the report spends some time dissecting blasphemy laws worldwide. One of the big take-aways: 21st-century technology may very well be providing more global access to differing viewpoints, but it's also becoming fertile ground for the prosecution of nonbelievers. They explain:

in addition to the tragic, but all too familiar, wave of blasphemy prosecutions in Pakistan, this year saw prosecutions for allegedly atheist comments on Facebook and Twitter in Bangladesh, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey. In some of these cases, the governments even threatened to prosecute those who commented on, or “liked”, or re-tweeted, the offending comments.

But the United States and some European countries are also listed in the country-by-country rundown. The United Kingdom, for example, takes some heat from the report's authors for the increasing number—now over 30 percent—of state-funded schools run by church authorities. And in the United States, the report describes a "range of laws [that] limit the role of atheists in regards to public duties, or else entangle the government with religion to the degree that being religious is equated with being an American, and vice versa." Seven states—Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas—have constitutional provisions banning atheists from holding public office.

Read the full report here.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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